How the pet food industry is leveraging new technologies

LIVE FROM PFF: Technologies like virtual reality and the cloud are enabling the pet food industry to be more transparent and helpful to customers.


In an era of FaceTime, the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and more, it’s no secret that technology has come far, enabling people and devices to connect and interact in new ways. Leaders in the pet food industry are also implementing some of these new technologies into their equipment and operations to not only be more transparent, but also be a better resource to the customers they serve. Some of this technology was on display at Petfood Forum 2018 for demonstration and discussion.

Virtual reality making pet food plant tours possible

Unless you have ever worked in a pet food plant, many, even those inside the industry, may not have the opportunity to tour one due to concerns over safety and security, and proprietary information, among other factors. However, virtual reality (VR) is a new tool being used by some in the pet food industry to bring people “into” the plant to see how equipment functions and pet food is made.  At Petfood Forum, Wenger showed off their VR technology to attendees with a tour of a pet food plant in which its new PetFlex Process was running. Wenger’s PetFlex Process uses thermal twin extrusion technology to allow for production of standard pet food, as well as high-meat inclusions, baked treats and long goods, which it said leads to lower energy costs, less wear and a lower environmental impact. The VR tour showed off this new technology, allowing the VR user to view the extruder in action. It also allowed users to walk around the plant and view labeled pieces of equipment and rooms often closed off, like the fresh meat room.   

Another equipment company, Buhler Aeroglide, also recently used VR technology to show its equipment in a new pet food mill.

Using the cloud to capture data, improve processes

Buhler is also leveraging new cloud and intelligence technology to create a deeper connection with its customers and provide them with key real-time data about the operation of the company’s drying equipment in the plant. Within the company’s newer cloud-based digital services platform, customers can purchase a subscription on different tier levels to monitor machine data such as the lifespan of their dryer’s motor, bearing or screen, which depends on the specific operation’s run rate, operational conditions and recipe, among other factors, according to Doug Beloskur, product manager at Buhler. This platform collects the machine’s specific performance data and stores it in a cloud-based interface that can be accessed via internet from a phone, tablet, computer or other Wi-Fi-enabled device. Plant managers and other employees with an account can also use the platform to set alerts in real time for equipment malfunctions or reminders for maintenance items. In addition to collecting machine data, the platform allows users to plot out the different datasets to analyze visually on a chart, both in real time and historically.


Buhler's digital services platform allows users to set custom notifications about their drying equipment. | Buhler Aeroglide

“Over time, if you can collect that information and understand what the characteristics of that operation are, you’re able to better use that asset,” he said. “So, we’re trying to drive better decision making with the owners of that equipment, but also partner with those owners to make sure anytime we have better information about how our process works, we’re able to streamline that back into our machines – and the first way to do that is to get our machines connected.”

Beloskur cited a customer example from a subscriber of the B Pro tier subscription, which includes Moisture Pro that aims to reduce time-based variation in water content from the dryer to reduce energy while producing the same yield. According to Beloskur, the customer reported a savings of more than $0.5 million dollars over the course of a year by implementing this new technology to monitor machine operations.

“There’s significant savings in harnessing the data that comes from these machines,” he said.

Petfood Forum was hosted April 24-25 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

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